x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Feeling ill? Help is just a call away

A 24-hour phone service will offer medical advice in English, Arabic and Hindi.

Basic medical care at any time and any location will now be available to those who suffer from the common cold to something more serious.

The Mobile Doctors 24-7 helpline, accessible via landline or mobile phone, will be manned by licenced physicians and nurses and provide advice for anyone who needs it, said Adam Chilcote, the vice president of Mobile Doctors 24-7 International.

The service is available in English, Arabic and Hindi by a team of 10 physicians, although more experts will be taken on board if demand calls for it.

The availability of professional medical advice over the telephone as a first port of call should reduce the strain on the country's emergency departments, which have high numbers of non-urgent cases daily.

By offering easy access to a health professional, people can then make an informed decision on whether to visit a hospital or not, Mr Chilcote said.

"I can call a doctor and talk to a doctor anytime and from anywhere in the country.

"It is an integrated care delivery system. In simple terms, if someone has a need, they can call into our physician helpline. People can gain access to a physician and from there we guide them to what they might need, whether it is an answer over the phone, a referral and an appointment, or sending a physician to their home."

First introduced in November, the service - 800 63247 - is now available nationwide. Currently all consultations are free. However, a new pricing plan will be implemented in the spring. Mr Chilcote said he expects prices to begin at Dh30 for a single consultation.

There are plans to invite insurance companies and employers to buy packages for their employees, he added.

The service is one that could be useful in the country, said Dr Jamal Al Kaabi, the director of customer care and corporate communications at Health Authority-Abu Dhabi (Haad).

"If they provide clinical management without examining them, then this is wrong," he said. "But, sometimes, people don't know what to do, so advice is needed."

Offering basic advice and education to callers will ultimately help the doctors who treat them face-to-face, said Dr Al Kaabi, who said the authority might also consider creating a helpline.

"The ground is very strong for this right now," he said.

Currently, if callers are faced with health-related issues, most will turn to a hospital, Mr Chilcote said.

"For most people, they are just worried. Something is happening to themselves, their child, their parent, and they don't know what to do, so they err on the side of caution and go to the emergency room. Up until now it has been the only place they can go."

For one expectant mother, knowing that a licenced health-care professional is on hand if she ever has a question is a comfort.

"That's good. Absolutely," said the Canadian. "You can see in any of the online forums that people ask for advice all the time. People go on and say their baby has a fever, and is that OK.

"There are a lot of people who ask advice of strangers, so if you are sure there is someone who is medically trained that's a good thing."

Charging people for the helpline would be a shame, said the expectant mother, who is due to give birth in several weeks. "The government should create one. Maybe they will, because it would be a plus to them."

zalhassani@thenational.ae